Huffpost Gay Voices
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jen Jones Headshot

Why North Carolina Could Turn the Tide on LGBT Discrimination in the South... And Beyond

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Sadly, the most frequent question I get when people find out that I, a non-runner, am running 322 miles across North Carolina to seed 1 million conversations about the harms of Amendment One on our May primary ballot is, "How's the training going?"

I say "sadly" because I'd rather they ask how our collective organizing efforts are going to convince hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians that a broad constitutional rewrite targeting protections for gay folks, but, in the end, impacting all of the state's unmarried couples, their children, their businesses, and their families, is bad for North Carolina.

Fortunately, it's not that hard.

And so, speaking for myself and, if I may be so bold, for my state, I'd like to say the training has "never been better."

But for those who believe finishing the equivalent of 13 marathons in five weeks should, in fact, be a piece of cake compared with the challenge of defeating anti-gay legislation in the South, well, let's just say you might be surprised come May.

After all, this is North Carolina we're talking about.

North Carolina is the only southeastern state without a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. While 29 states have passed similar amendments over the last decade, for the past eight years, the Tar Heel state has successfully held off efforts to write discrimination into our state's founding document. And we can do so again. Why?

North Carolina faces this amendment at the very time when state and national public opinion has shifted against this type of discriminatory legislation. In 2011 America asked, "What's the big deal?" with no less than six national polls, from Gallup to CNN, showing majority support for marriage equality. Similarly, in our Southern state, polling consistently shows that the majority of North Carolinians support marriage equality or civil unions -- recognitions North Carolina's Amendment One would ban. As a result, time and time again we see that once our state's citizens actually learn the harms of this discriminatory measure, support plummets, and opposition to Amendment One grows by the day.

Check out the harms for yourself, from our campaign launch last week:

While families and their children -- straight and gay -- are under attack by this amendment, it's important to note that North Carolina has already recognized that its most vulnerable children need protection. North Carolina is the only state in the South that legally protects students from bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2009 North Carolina passed the School Violence Prevention Act and proudly became the first state in the South to pass any sort of protection for people based on their gender identity and gender expression, as well as the first to have anti-bullying protections on the basis of sexual orientation.

North Carolina is home to diverse, fair-minded voting blocs. Once home to agrarian endeavors and vast rural populations, North Carolina has transformed into a haven for progressive industries such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, with large populations living in major metropolitan areas and welcoming of diverse communities. As part of these changes, according to the 2010 census, same-gender couples represent one of the fastest-growing demographics in the state, adding to a enlightened voting bloc that not only opposes discriminatory legislation but supports legal rights and recognitions for all.

North Carolinians from all corners of the state have resolved to oppose this amendment. It's not just our major metropolitan areas that are leading the charge against Amendment One. Dozens of municipal, city, university, and statewide organizations have already passed resolutions against Amendment One -- many of which we'll profile during Race to the Ballot -- including cities and towns like Durham or Chapel Hill, two of nine municipalities that stand to be stripped of domestic partner benefits for their public employees if it were to pass.

Amendment One opposition has growing bipartisan support. Our state's moderate Democratic governor, U.S. Senator, NAACP Conference President, and conservative U.S. Representative have all come out against Amendment One, finding it to be an extreme act, not a conservative one, and the people impacted not wedge issues but, well, people. In fact, our Tea Party Congresswoman Renee Ellmers was one of the first public figures to say she will vote against Amendment One. In doing so, Ellmers spoke for many North Carolina conservatives who are still evolving on marriage equality but know a constitutional amendment banning it and every other relationship recognition available -- for straight and gay couples -- is an overreach no matter what party you belong to.

So, when I say the training has never been better... I mean it.

(Oh, and I started jogging a bit this week, too.)

For more information about "our little jog," visit racetotheballot.com.